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History of the Common School Movement

This paper is an examination of the rise of the common school movement. Until the mid-1830s, education was considered to be a private matter, available primarily to white males from well-to-do families. For many, the idea that education should be universally available to all children, funded by the state, was an objectionable concept. Proponents of common schools argued that educating all citizens is a fundamental necessity for a democratic society. The rise and acceptance of the common school movement mirrors the expanded definitions of democracy that American society as a whole was undergoing at the time, broadened thinking that led to a great variety of societal reforms. Within education itself, the common school movement provided the basis for the establishment of the comprehensive public education system that is currently in place in the United States.

When the United States of America came into existence, education was a luxury available only to the wealthy and usually confined to men. Well-to-do women might also have access to limited schooling, but widespread literacy was not the norm anywhere in the world. Many influential thinkers (themselves well-educated by the standards of their times) contended that education was a luxury that should be restricted to those who could afford and appreciate its benefits. Some of the strongest opposition came from the question of who should pay for education. James Bowen quotes an editorial in the Philadelphia National Gazette dated July 12, 1830, which "argued that it 'is beyond the province and power' of government to provide public schools and that 'education in general must be the work of the intelligence, need and enterprise of individuals and associations.'"

Thomas Jefferson, Thomas Paine, and others among the founding fathers spoke out in favor of a wider availability of education; although they were minority voices in their time, they were leaders in a growing trend...

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History of the Common School Movement. (1969, December 31). In Retrieved 19:53, October 23, 2021, from